What’s Lighting Up the Web: EV Infrastructure

Have you seen an electric car recently? Chances are you haven’t. But you may have seen a charging station.

Electric cars have garnered a great deal of media attention. The first mass-market electric cars, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, are currently launching in select markets and will be available nationally by late 2012. As a result, many U.S. cities are installing charging stations—some with aggressive deployment goals. Oftentimes cities are installing stations well before the cars are to arrive.

Automobile bloggers have covered the relationship between charging infrastructure and electric vehicle adoption. And a key question they pose is whether the presence of publicly available charging stations will be enough to encourage drivers to purchase an EV and whether some cities are over-investing in infrastructure.

Two recent blog posts from Plugincars.com and Wired.com have covered the role of charging infrastructure and its importance for EV adoption.

Brad Berman, from plugincars.com, reported on the recent installation of 100 charging stations throughout Orlando, FL—a city that only recently became a phase-two market for the Nissan Leaf.

According to Tim Trudell of Orlando Utilities Commission, “Orlando is now one of the most electric-vehicle-ready communities in the state.”

That’s great, but here’s the strange thing. At this point, there are just about zero electric cars on Florida roads. To be frank, Orlando has never been known as a hotbed of progressive environmental thinking or early technology adoption.

Further questioning the need for public charging stations, Wired.com’s Chuck Squatriglia writes:

The simple fact is, most of our charging will be done at home while sleeping…the fact we’ll do most charging at home suggests our infrastructure needs aren’t as great as EV naysayers claim.

One of many advantages of electric vehicles is the ability to wake up to a fully “fueled” vehicle every morning. This will be much easier for homeowners with driveways or garages, but many real estate property owners are beginning to explore charging opportunities for multi-family dwellings as well. This brings into question the need for public charging stations. After all, most charging stations currently being deployed are Level II, 220 Volt chargers, which will fully charge a car in about 8 hours, depending on the size of the battery pack. That doesn’t make for a good street side application.

However, as Squatriglia suggests, we shouldn’t think in terms of full charges. Electric vehicles, he writes, pose a paradigm shift.

Driving an EV means plugging in at night and topping off when you can during the day. It’s called “opportunistic charging” and it is second-nature for EV owners.

Time will tell whether these stations are vital contributors to the adoption of vehicle electrification or dust-gathering relics. But in the interim, perhaps it’s best to listen to the public:

I use the chargers extensively with my Orlando based Leaf. It’s great to see Florida stepping up and taking the plunge into the world of electric cars. -Commenter, Plugincars.com

As a frequent LEAF commuter in LA (5200 miles in 90 days), I am very disappointed in the lack of EVSE expansion in the area. I refuse to be “leashed” to my home power source to fill up my car. I sure do need to be creative in charging up my LEAF around here! It’s nice to see other cities expanding the charging infrastructure, despite no car. -Commenter, plugincars.com

We want to hear your opinion. Do you think EV charging infrastructure is lagging, meeting, or exceeding electric vehicle deployment?  If you are an EV owner, can you tell us about your experiences charging at a public charging station vs. your residence?